Why Do You Read Books?

I had a conversation recently with a colleague about technical writing. One of my chemistry professors had told me that I should pursue technical writing, rather than chemistry as a career. My colleague, who was manager in all but name of a chemistry laboratory for the last year, pointed out that it’s a good thing I didn’t take that advice. The best technical writers, he said (and I agreed) have some experience in what they are writing about. It’s not that you can’t be a technical writer and not have done the tests, or run the instruments. It’s that if you have no hands-on in the field, you are only going to be able to have a shallow understanding of what you’re writing about.

But Cedar, you’re thinking, fiction is not the same as technical writing. And boy howdy are you right. I much prefer fiction, or the casual style of these blog articles, to the formulas and conventions of technical papers and reports. I can do them. That doesn’t mean I enjoy them the way I do this. I also enjoy the hands-on of being in the lab conducting tests and assays. So being a Scientist is much more my cuppa tea… and novelist on the side. However, the experience in life I have also seeps into my fiction, and makes it better and deeper, and your audience can tell if you know what you’re talking about, just like in technical writing. 

Audience dictates what a successful writer produces to some extent. While it’s liberating and amusing to think that we can write whatever we want, that’s also limiting. The audience of one: ourself, it’s not much of a market. However, if we decide that we’d like to sell our books, and sell lots of them, we need to study the audience until we understand it.

You can do this in several ways. One, talking directly with fans, is somewhat effective, but can be difficult if you are a new or relatively unknown author. Talking with colleagues: other writers and even publishers, can be helpful, but only if they are willing to share (like Toni Weisskopf, who is more than gracious if you catch her with a moment to spare at a con sometime and don’t demand her attention rudely). Being part of a writing group, or following blogs like this one, can be useful to see what is working and what isn’t. For those who want more, or are just starting out, you can hit the review section below books that resemble your own. Keep in mind, however, that not all reviewers are *coff* unbiased and objective in their writing, either. But if you see a theme running through them of ‘I liked this, more of this.’ or ‘I hated that, don’t do that’ it can help you decide that perhaps including tentacle sex in your military science fiction (especially surprise!sex) is not something that a majority of the reading audience for that sub-genre are going to appreciate.

Also, if you want to cross genres, and say, write Romances because they sell so well and you can practically smell the money, you will do best to both research your audience, and also to read the top best sellers at the very minimum. Writing in a genre you do not read is a Very Bad Idea. Don’t do it.

Drilling down into understanding what makes an Audience tick, is understanding why they came to you in the first place, their demographics, and how you can incorporate your newfound knowledge into your writing to make it appeal to a larger audience.

So why do people read books?

I asked on social media, and after six hours, when I began to collect the results of my informal survey, the answers were fascinating. Some were serious, some were snarky. Some were sublime. I’ve included a selection of my favorites under the table. I tabulated the responses according to word usage – it may seem redundant to include enjoyment, entertainment, pleasure, and fun as separate categories, but the connotations of the words people chose interested me, so I separated them out. The other surprise of the answers was how many people are like me: they can’t not read. It’s a compulsion to read anything in print that enters their line of sight.

I posed the survey question in two large groups of readers, and on my personal timeline on Facebook. I tabulated the results by reasons, and some respondents gave more than one reason, I counted by reason, not person.

Reason for reading books Number of respondents
Research 12
Relaxation 15
“Like I have a choice” (compulsion to read, it’s an addiction) 29
Escapism 53
Pure Enjoyment 8
Boredom 8
“Because they’re there” 6
To Gain Knowledge, for Education 41
Pleasure 6
Entertainment 34
“Because I can” 5
Fun 7
“Why Do I Breathe?” 5
Because I haven’t read them all yet 1
Adventure 9
Expand/Sharpen my mind 6
What If? 2
Because it is a privilege to do so 1
Better, or more convenient than TV or movies 2
To discover new characters 2

Source link 1

Because staring at words and having vivid hallucinations doesn’t show up on a random drug test.” Bob Cruze Jr.

“I feel that it teaches empathy and ability to put yourself in others shoes. I think readers are more compassionate people.” Amy G.

“Because it turns out that I can’t absorb them by osmosis.” Mark W.

I want to fill my mind with brilliant ideas, faraway landscapes, unforgettable (and forgettable) characters. I want the theater of my mind to have plays written by someone else than me once in a while. True, I escape into books, but I think that’s a wonderful thing. I get ideas, I stretch my imagination, and I gain knowledge of the world.” Jody Lynn Nye

Cos I haven’t read them all yet …” Joseph Bear

“I especially like fiction that comes as a series. But it has to be a good series. Like your Pixie For Hire series and Children of the Myth series. I’m getting to the point where I want to read them again. Yes I’m one of those weird people that reads books more than once.” Gail B.

“Plus, it’s magic. Telepathy. The writer encodes his/her thoughts on paper (or in pixels) and passes them to me in that/those form(s), whereupon, they reform in my mind as sensations and narratives.” Mark A.

“I read to expand my mind. I learn new things, and if I come across an unknown concept, I am able to imagine new possibilities, new worlds, new methods of solving various and sundry dilemmas that have baffled mankind for ages. I also lower my blood pressure, decrease my chances of Alzheimer’s, and I support the economy and the authors by buying the books I read.” Alan D B.

“To see and do things that not only could I not do, but that NOBODY could do– it’s like having a really deep, good conversation but without it having to manage all the timing involved in that. Or it’s a good joke when you just can’t even. To sit down by the fire when that really isn’t an option.” Foxfier

When I was a kid, I was enough of an outcast that I didn’t like where I was, so I read to be other places, to immerse myself in Sonoran deserts, or under the sea, or in space. To not have to be where I was the brunt of everyone’s humor and abuse, to be the hero sailing off to Barsoom. I began to like those other places so well that I began to prefer them to reality. and even when I came into my own I enjoyed revisiting those places that had given me solace, and comfort, and eventually knowledge and confidence” Mike H.

Source Link 2

“The internal conversation is often more fascinating than the external.” Kim S.

I’d say entertainment, but I think it matters why a person is looking for entertainment. I like science fiction because it’s fun to explore new worlds. I like romance because it has happy endings and isn’t challenging, and sometimes a person just needs to relax. There have been many times when I’m stressed enough that all I can deal with my books I’ve already read before what I know what’s going to happen and I can’t miss anything if I don’t pay attention or get interrupted.” Julie P.

They taste like chicken.” Hopalong Ginsberg

“Because stone tablets are too heavy to carry… What?” Chris T. and Jeff P.

“When I was young, I learned that books were my friends.

They didn’t judge. They didn’t tease or torment. They weren’t cruel.

They were always there for me and always welcomed my company.” Brena B.

“If I have any money I buy books, if any is left I buy food.” – Erasmus

“Cause the pictures are better. Last owned a TV 30 years ago and have never missed it.” Donald M.

Source Link 3

“Books last longer than magazines.” Julian Thompson


24 thoughts on “Why Do You Read Books?

      1. When I was younger, my attitude to sleep was like Erasmus’ to money. Sleep was for when there was nothing new to read.

        I don’t know whether I (mostly) got over that from age and responsibilities, or from exhausting the new that interested me. Probably both, as I still have occasional bouts of reading induced insomnia. Your books, the Dyce Dares, or a series by E. M. Foner I’ve been reading recently.

        1. E. M. Foner!!


          Wonderful series of escape science fiction.

          And he breaks the rules about book covers.

          If you are looking for light, escapism science fiction with aliens, this is an excellent series.

          This author is right up there with Larry Correia, I buy the books as soon as they come out.

          Turn off your brain and enjoy!

  1. Because I’d go nuts if I didn’t have something to read. Cereal box, newspaper, book, magazine, book, poster on the wall, book, I gotta have something in my hands and mind. To learn, and sometimes to escape. My time for escape reading, alas, has shrunk as the need for learn-reading has expanded.

  2. Pretty much all the same excu– er, reasons as the rest of this lot, in approximately the surveyed order. Also, where do I get that book for literally escaping reality??

    My brain also prioritizes reading over other input. Start reading and my ears literally stop hearing words (tho not music). Closed captioning, argh!

    But I’ve also unintentionally cut way back (by ~98%, no shit), because there’s less and less new stuff that I really want to read. Aside from the obvious of catch-my-interest, meaning: the writing doesn’t too-often annoy my inner editor, the author knows their genre, the story doesn’t hit me over the head (I don’t care if we disagree, just don’t be an ass about it), and it isn’t merely a thin veneer of SF/F-or-whatever pasted over gumshoe or romance. And by now I can tell in half a line.

    My budget used to be 10% books. Now it’s basically zero, and I find myself reading oldies instead.

  3. Willie Sutton, a famous thief of earlier days, was once asked why he robbed banks. His response was, “because that’s where the money is.”
    My twist on his answer as regards books is, “because that’s where the words are.”
    The implied Duh! is silent.

  4. All of which pretty much answers the question of what to write. Write about fascinating places filled with characters the reader will enjoy getting to know

  5. “Why do I breathe?”

    “When I was young, I learned that books were my friends.

    They didn’t judge. They didn’t tease or torment. They weren’t cruel.

    They were always there for me and always welcomed my company.” Brena B.

    That would be my answer as well.

    And addendum: And I learned more than those who never read ever will. ‘Knowledge is power, knowledge is a weapon’ – was a lesson learned while young.

  6. Because “Real Life” is annoying, and people here are dicks. When I read, usually the Bad Guys lose. I like watching them lose, I’m a bit vengeful that way.

    Lately I’ve been reading a lot less, because the Bad Guys have been winning in a lot of books, and in other ones I’m rooting for the Bad Guys to kill all the characters. Right before I relegate that book to the garbage.

  7. I’ve ran into a few “writers” who claimed that they specifically DIDN’T read the genre they were writing in, because they didn’t want to subliminally copy from someone. At the time, I was actually trying to point out to them that their writing style was worse than untrained, and on top of it they were duplicating (in the worst possible ways) all the worst overused tropes (though I didn’t know that term yet) from that Genre, that would make most fans of it roll their eyes in disgust. They couldn’t understand why their response had me skip the facepalm step and go straight to head-desking.

    In many ways, needing to read others in order to write is analogous to Santayana’s nugget of wisdom about forgetting history, then repeating it.
    If you do not learn/know/remember what doesn’t work in others’ writing, you’ll doom yourself to repeating that failure in your own works. And, don’t assume because flaunting one of these things to avoid somehow works for someone else, that it will automatically work for you, either.

  8. I learned to read when I was barely three years old and I haven’t stopped since. Most of the reasons on your list would apply to why I love reading. The librarian at the local Public Library and I were first-name friends, and long before I was out of grade school I had read practically everything in the Children’s Room and graduated to the main shelves.

    A book borrowed from my brother was my introduction to Science Fiction (“The Lost Planet” by Paul Dallas). When my mother chastised me for still reading childrens’ books in 7th grade (I think I was rereading “Black Beauty” (unabridged) for about the 6th time), I came home with Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” and she never said another word. Especially after I then devoured Michener’s “Hawaii” off of her bookshelf.

    One of the best presents I have given myself in the past five years is my Kindle Fire II. Due to a fixed income I can no longer buy books, but with access to the various digital libraries, and now Kindle Unlimited, I can voraciously indulge my habit. Reading, to me, is simply a necessity of life.

  9. I don’t (usually) read explicitly to learn, but my vocabulary is much larger than most – and I make people laugh when I try to say words that I’ve only read. Who knew that Aragorn and argon where different things? A reverse example, I received a piece of mail from some place I had never heard of before: La Jolla, CA (Jolla == Hoya never occurred to me).

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